Berriane Update: Truce breaks down

Violence resumed in Berriane Wednesday night, injuring as many as 20 people, according to El Khabar. According to RFI, clashes Arab youths began to clash with police over a parking dispute, during the course of which Mzabite youths became involved. RFI also mentions that “skirmishes took place this weekend … but they were controlled quickly unlike those of Wednesday evening.”

El Khabar‘s account writes that “the streets turned to the field of throwing a Molotov cocktails, and last night witnesses identified the use of heavy bottles of petrol, which means that the recent clashes were not spontaneous, often, as the stones, bottles and cocktails ‘were ready to use.'” It writes that violence occurred in “several neighborhoods” and that two houses were attacked two of which were burned down “without any forceful intervention to stop the aggressors”. It describes a large gendarme presence made up of fatigued personnel unwilling to become involved in the increasingly intense youth violence. While the report describes the situation having “stunned even the pessimists,” it notes that young people did attempt to provide cover and shelter for strangers. The gendarmie closed the roads into Berriane from the north, south and east, leaving the highways around Berriane “lined with dozens of cars, trucks and buses which have been unable to move over the full 5 hours, after the turmoil in the city. The movement of vehicles did not start until after one 1:00 AM, and this has caused severe fatigue for passengers going to and from the southern states.” Another report writes of clashes during the day on Thursday, bring the number of wounded to around 30. The clashes on Thursday took place in Kef Hammouda (where the first Mzabite death in the clashes occurred last year). When the security forces put a stop to the violence there, clashes began again in Seraaf and was put down. The RCD has put out as a statement question the role of the security forces in controlling the violence.

El Watan puts the number at 5o, with a dozen in “critical” condition. It describes the outbreak of fighting between young Arab men and the police: The youths asked the gendarmes to move their trucks from the entrance way to the Boudouaya neighborhood “because they hindered the entrance of families”. The request was refused, and the “next day, the same group bluntly attacked security forces with Molotov cocktails, injuring dozens of police, who made arrests among young people, seven of which were presented to prosecutors and placed under judicial control.”Residents believed that the violence was confined to Boudouaya, but then

forty young people, began to conquer the western area inhabited by the Mozabites. They were quickly blocked by the rapid intervention of an important device deployed around the scene. Clashes between police and youth lasted several hours. Around 3 AM, the same attackers, with Molotov cocktails, tried a second incursion, this time more violent than the first. The clashes continued until early yesterday morning before returning in the afternoon.

The violence comes less than two weeks after an agreement between local elders seeking to bring peace to the area’s divided population of Ibadite Mzabites (Berbers) and Malekite Arabs (Sunnis) that have clashed violently for over a year. It is especially disappointing since voting in the town reportedly went smoothly, even according Liberte. In as divided a setting as Berriane, this would seem to indicate that the security forces are well and capable of preventing violence — though it is possible that young people simply did not vote and thus were not in the streets to stir trouble. (Officially, the town voted 96.74% with Haoune coming in second with only 230 vote, which certainly means there was rigging or massive under participation; It is hard to believe that the other male candidates would have held less appeal to the population than Hanoune.) It also comes not long after Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the President’s Personal Represenative, implored a gathering Malekite leaders to greater tolerance.

This compact, negotiated between notables, has likely been ineffective because it did not involve the youth or address the issues facing them. Peace continues to elude the area until the real reasons for the violence are elaborated more fully. It has raised controversy, centered around accusations that it encourages communitarianism rather than discourages it. In an El Watan interview (from 2 April) with Bahmed Hadjadj , head of Berriane’s municipal council (APC), it is said that

We must now think of a socio-cultural and recreational way for young people to avoid falling into idleness. The needs are enormous and we hope that the leisure and sports activities such as tournaments and travel to other parts of the country that will be offered, relieve some of the stress state in which they lived for nearly one year already.

This, I think, is at the root of the problem in Berriane and much the rest of Algeria as well. It is not especially helpful to look for ways of simply distracting young people from violence. Football and travel are fine and well, but they cannot replace meaningful work and they cannot provide for families, as they do not generate wealth or prosperity in and of themselves. While sports can help to keep youths off the streets, finding for long term economic solutions will do more than cosmetic ones. In a country with as many unemployed young men and as violent a history as Algeria, it is not sustainable to look at sporting and sending idle men off to see other parts of an economically stagnant country instead of actually working to find a way of providing real paying jobs and a sense of pride and worth that does not come from pack violence. The national service requirement was originally partially intended to solve the problem of idleness among young people by giving them something to do before they went off into joblessness after completing their studies (along with socializing people from different parts of a massive country and other goals of nation building). Today, young people clamor to get out of military service (so much so that reducing it was a part of the presidential campaign). Unless the overall structure of how the Algerian political class approaches dealing with young people is revised, violence like that in Berriane will continue into the future with potentially disasterous results.

Update: Moustapha Hammouche writes: “Il y a urgence et la mise en scène de campagne autour d’une “feuille de route” pour un “pacte” entre les deux communautés s’avère, comme c’était prévisible, sans rapport avec la nature du problème.” For Hammouche, the question is: “Can the State address the issue of Berriane or not?”

Violence broke out again after Friday prayers in front of the Malekite Mosque of El Boukhari, paralyzing the city, wounding several men seriously (requiring them being taken into Ghardaia proper for treatment) among them a colonel in the National Gendarme, continuing until a visit from the Wali of Ghardaia, when the streets were cleared. The violence mounted to “several hours of downright chaos”. And life was not much better in the aftermath, according to Liberte, which describes Berriane as being “dead” with no shops or schools open or functioning. As is often the cast, homes and shops were set ablaze. Mzabite community leaders have called for a general strike, paralyzing the city’s economic functioning. Four people were arrested. According to the English page of El Khabar, locals have begun to contact international NGOs (Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, IFHR are mentioned) in hopes of bringing fact finding missions to determine the root of the bedlam.

Violence continued into Saturday, with fighting occurring in Kef Hammouda, Saraf and Chaada. A youth was shot, according to some sources. Arrests were made, and some of these were released on Sunday. Merchants continued to strike, though some schools and “Arab institutions” operated. The RCD, of which Berriane’s mayor was member until he was removed last year, continues to question the role of the security forces. Liberte quotes a local as saying that “responsibility for the recent violence lies primarily with local authorities, who are unable to manage a crisis, and then the laxity of the judiciary.” Another resident is quoted as saying the following:

«Les gens ont cru au changement et aux promesses faites avant les élections. Ils voulaient juste la paix. Mais la situation est plus compliquée qu’on ne le croit. Il est difficile maintenant de prévoir ce qui arrivera demain. Ce retour de la violence remet en cause tout le processus de paix mené jusque-là et la crédibilité des personnes qui ont signé l’acte de paix », nous dira un citoyen de Berriane.

L’Expression reports the sense of disappointment and insecurity echoed by other reports. Residents are repeatedly quoted as saying that “despite the increase in the presence of law enforcement [personnel], we do not feel safe.”

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